Jim Harbaugh is a brilliant football coach at the college and pro levels. This is not debatable. He has been to a Super Bowl and is 38-13 in almost four full seasons at Michigan. He also had two other successful college coaching stops.
When you are as good as Harbaugh is, there is always going to be speculation about jobs other than the one you have, even if it never goes beyond that. Both the college and NFL seasons are winding down. So, let the educated speculation begin.
If Harbaugh were to leave Michigan, the only real upgrade would be a return to the NFL. There is one job that will be open that seems like a good fit, the Cleveland Browns. Here is why it makes sense for both sides.
As well as Gregg Williams, the team, and the rest of the staff have done since Hue Jackson was let go, no one expects Williams to have the interim tag removed and be the head coach in 2019. Given his shaky track record with the league office, this is probably for the best.
Still, if you read between the lines, it sure looks like Cleveland’s ownership and management want to make a splash with their next head coaching hire. The two names that have made it out to the public are Bruce Arians and Condoleezza Rice… Yes, that Condoleezza Rice. The Arians chatter has come more from Arians himself than the Browns, but his success in the NFL speaks for itself. No one from the Cleveland front office has come out and said that the team is not interested in Arians.
As for Rice, that rumor was quickly squashed by Rice herself and it likely would be a total disaster. Even so, it sure would have fit the bill in terms of making a splash.
On the field, Harbaugh helped get Colin Kaepernick to a Super Bowl, and almost win it with the 49ers. Due to political noise, it is easy to forget about Kaepernick’s skill set as a player. He was a rare run pass hybrid quarterback whose best success came with Harbaugh as his head coach. In a little less than three seasons as Harbaugh’s starter, Kaepernick threw 49 touchdown passes, rushed for 687 yards, and set an NFL single-game record for rush yards by a quarterback in a playoff win against the Packers. Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has proven to be a capable thrower and runner. Harbaugh has proven that he knows how to get the best out of that kind of player.
This is the easier part of the equation. Harbaugh inherited a Michigan program that didn’t go to a bowl game and lost to teams like Rutgers and Minnesota the year before he arrived. He has won 38 games at his alma mater and will have a chance at a 39th win in what is sure to be a decent bowl game in terms of prestige.
Yet, because his team lost to Ohio State and Notre Dame this year, some media and Michigan fans are calling for him to lose his job. There should not be a need for articles justifying why Harbaugh should keep his current gig, but there is. Harbaugh has a chance to win 11 games this year at Michigan, some people still want him fired. He was born in Ohio. If he were to have the same chance in Cleveland with the Browns, the folks there would build him a statue. The chance to turn around the Browns has to be intriguing on some level for anyone born in Ohio.
Harbaugh is smack dab in the middle of a seven-year deal at Michigan, but contracts mean very little for football coaches these days. The Browns would be foolish not to at least call Harbaugh or his agent. If the situation arises, the Harbaugh camp will deny everything publicly as is standard, but they just might listen.